Ah, Italy in the spring -- who can resist a trip, even if just in my magical realism novel set in present-day Italy, The Renaissance Club.
The Renaissance Club -- Chapter One, conclusion:
“We have to get a guide fast,” Kathleen said. “If we miss one reservation, it’s dominoes. The schedule falls apart. We don’t want to wind up in bad hotels.”
“Marianna and I can’t stay in any crap-hole,” Rick said.
Kathleen’s cheeks were scarlet. “Moving a group through Italy isn’t easy. I can’t give guarantees!”
Nine people became suddenly, chaotically noisy. Norman watched them patiently with his spaniel eyes. He knew they found his ideas about truth and beauty naïve but he had now seen the beauty he hoped for, and it was his truth. He saw May still smiling at him with her crooked smile. At least he had one ally.
But May’s smile was actually a mask for fatigue so profound her lids felt like they were carrying suitcases. She dimly analyzed her state and realized she had such a bad case of jet lag she was having waking nightmares. She shook her head, trying to clear a one now, of a large orange scampi on her plate that had winked at her. Because she was alarmed, she smiled even more.
“Come on, people," Norman said. “We're The Renaissance Club. This trip could change our lives⎯surely that’s worth a little fuss.”
Norman felt sweat begin to roll down his face.
Jacob supported him, saying, “Yes, change is always part of traveling.”
“We can’t deal with change,” Rick said. “Marianna's health—well, she has a special circumstance.”
Everyone looked at Marianna and then as one at her stomach. Marianna had the kind of stomach they use in weight-loss commercials, so the small bump there conveyed the truth.
“Yes, she’s pregnant!” Rick said angrily. “We didn’t want to say anything. It’s only twelve weeks. But it’s a delicate situation and she can’t take any risks—”
Marianna cut him off. “You don’t have to speak for me, Rick, I’m pregnant, not disabled.”
She turned to Norman and gave him the full force of her displeasure.
“I don’t care about your problems,” she said quietly. “I expect a comfortable room with my own bathroom in every city.”
The murmur in the room said she had support for these demands.
Rick added, “Those are the terms. Give us what we were promised or return our money.”
Norman saw fear ripple through his club. If one couple took their money back, they wouldn’t be able to support the tour, not six thousand dollars short.
“Don’t worry,” he said, “Kathleen and I will find new hotels just as good but less expensive. We’ll stay in Rome a few more days, and that means we can see Piazza Navona, the Pantheon, and the Colosseum.”
Very pale, Norman pronounced the meeting over. The tired travelers left.
A half hour after they left the room, a tall, olive-skinned man wearing a black Astrakhan coat came in. He looked around, then sat at a side table. After a few minutes, Jacob came back. They nodded to each other and sat down. A waiter came in and took their drink orders. The tall man pulled out a Florentine tooled leather cigarette case, offered Jacob one, and pulled out a solid gold cigarette lighter to light them both up. It was a long conversation, and at the end they shook hands as they rose.
George, putting on his long black coat, said, “This group sounds a lot more interesting than that last one, Jacob. They have made their own touring booklets. They studied the Renaissance for a year. I’m impressed.”
“They’re all knowledgeable about the Renaissance. I told them you could give them an unforgettable tour.”
“Did you tell them I’d wave my magic lighter and burn up all their problems too?” George laughed. “Jacob, you always over-promise.”
“So I can under-deliver. I leave the over-delivering to you, George.”
“You make a good foil for me, and I appreciate it,” George said.
“So will you take them on? I know you’ll be disappearing at intervals as you always do.”
“I’m glad you’ve made your peace with the fact that time isn’t real.”
“Will you be telling that to old Cosimo? Or Lorenzo? I don’t think that Einstein quotation about relativity will play well in the fifteenth century.”
George laughed a long laugh that began at his stomach and fluted up and out of his mouth with enough notes to form a song.
“You’d be surprised, Jacob, at the open-mindedness of men who know they have only a few decades to live. How do you think I started the Renaissance ball rolling? I told Cosimo about reincarnation and that he had probably been Aristotle. He liked that.”
“You didn’t. You told that to a Catholic?” Jacob smiled at George with both admiration and envy. “I often wish I could go traveling with you.”
“Maybe one day you will. And you’d be surprised at what a bunch of ambitious medieval Catholics will buy. Jesus taught reincarnation, but the Fifth Ecumenical Council at Niceae decided to dump his teachings. The better to control the masses with fear of death.”
“Good politics. Like making sure to have a few popes in the family.”
“And popes who think the right way. George, you’re not going to give them the wild stuff, are you?”
George laughed another small song of absurdity.
“A bunch of secular humanists? What do you think?”
Jacob shook his head, smiling. “I think you will riff off their questions in a way that makes big-wave surfing look like a sport for the chicken-hearted.”
This got the biggest laugh from George yet. They had risen as they talked and George led the way out, Jacob following. When they reached the far end of the lobby, Jacob held out his hand.
“I’m glad you’ll do it. I think you’ll find this group full of surprises. But I just hope we don’t have another woman like Alathena to get rid of when their tour is over.”
Shaking Jacob’s hand George said, “See you tomorrow, Jacob.”
“Nice and early, I hope. I’ll have Norman send emails to everyone. You’ll find them punctual. Teachers have to be on time.”
“Well, good. As you know, I rarely am.”
George left and Jacob went upstairs to get in touch with Norman.